Former Supreme Court Justice Bill Wilson

WILSON, William (Bill) McLeod

Professional Data

Postion & Titles: QC   *Resigned 2010.  Lawyer survey had Wilson dead last due to related personal integrity lapses on the bench*  This was more than a bit unfair; the NZ courts are riddled with far worse offenders than Mr Wilson
Judge of: New Zealand Zealand Supreme Court (2008),  Court of Appeal, 2007
Specializations and Professional Interests: Commercial Law, Corporate Competition, Bank and Media Law
Professional Comments: An exceptionally astute political operator, evidenced by his appointment directly from lawyer to Court of Appeal judge (leapfrogging the District and High Court) in January 2007 and his appointment to the Supreme Court a year later.  Before his judicial appointment Bill Wilson J worked with the Labour government on a number of issues including the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission, as a consultant to the Department of Labour right up to his appointment, as counsel for the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security in the Ahmed Zaoui case and various other matters that would make him privy to the internal and intimate workings of government.

Wilson J’s appointment from private practice directly to the Court of Appeal – and then the Supreme Court a year later – is extraordinary and virtually impossible to justify merely on merit.  This most certainly suggests that Justice Wilson will be as concerned about the political implications of his decisions on his mates as much as whether it is the just verdict.  This was proven within months of his appointment to the Bench when Justice Wilson overturned a ruling in favor of Canterbury businessman Peter Radford in the Wool Board v Saxmere. It was later found out that the opposing party’s lawyer in the appeal (Alan Galbraith QC) was Justice Bill Wilson’s business partner in a $10 million horse farm and that Wilson failed to disclose the extensive partnership to the other party or recuse himself outright as the law required.  The Supreme Court is now dealing with this misconduct matter.

Any hope that Wilson might add some independent thinking to the Supreme Court bench was diminished in Gregory v Gollan SC4/2009 [2009] NZSC 29  when he concurred with Justices Elias and Blanchard to contravene statutory guarantees for parties to civil litigation to “require” trial by jury as provided by the Judicature Act 1908 – once again favour of ‘judicial discretion’ to set aside statute.  Amazing, the Court which included Wilson J falsely declared, “(trial by jury) is now covered by New Zealand legislation which makes it clear that proceedings are to be tried by judge alone unless the Court exercises its discretion to order trial by jury.”

Background / Education: Justice Wilson graduated from Victoria University of Wellington with an LLM (Hons). He joined the firm of Bell Gully & Co where he became partner in 1971. He continued as a partner when that firm merged to become Bell Gully Buddle Weir. He was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1996.

Justice Wilson held the position of legal advisor to the New Zealand Bankers Association, the New Zealand Educational Institute, the Newspapers Publishers Association and the New Zealand Press Association from 1979 to 1996.  He has worked extensively with the Labour government.

Justice Wilson was a member of the Waitangi Tribunal from 1986 to 1995 as well has holding a number of positions on working parties, review panels and advisory groups. He is also the author of the Banking Law title in Laws of New Zealand.  He was also Chair of the Appeal Council of the New Zealand Rugby Union in 2006.

Degrees: LLM (Hons.) Victoria University, Wellington 1968
Admitted to the Bar: 1968
Company Involvements: Current Director and shareholder of Rich Hill Ltd. and Biikwid Ltd.  50% owner of Rich Hill Stud (Rich Hill Ltd).

Personal Data

Born: 1945 Sex: Male
Married: Children:
Interesting Relationships and Coincidences:  Joint owner of multi-million dollar racehorse stud farm (Rich Hill Stud) with Alan Galbraith QC.
Miscellaneous: Lives in Wellington,  Close business partnership with Alan Galbraith QC in a $10 Million Waikato Stud farm.  Would have intimate knowledge of skeletons in the Labour Government’s closet (likely explaining his stellar promotion from private practice to Supreme Court judge)



19 January 2010
Former Chief Justice of Australia Murray Gleeson and Judicial Conduct Commissioner David Gascoigne met with superfine woolgrower Saxmere principal Peter Radford and his formidable counsel Sue Grey yesterday as the first step in deciding whether Supreme Court Justice Bill Wilson will become the first Judge in New Zealand History to face removal from office for misconduct.  What ensued at the 3 hour meeting was an expose into systemic abuse of power by judges and Crown law officers, with little regard for their personal conflicts of interest.

The main subject of the inquiry into Judge Wilson’s alleged misconduct was his overturning a ruling while on the Court of Appeal in a case where his business partner was counsel for the lucky party.  It turned out that lawyer had assisted Judge Wilson with bank financing and the two were in the middle of purchasing a $2.1 million property.  When the conflict was later discovered and a complaint laid, Wilson admitted he thought Saxmere would likely object to his presiding as Judge if they had known this – but Wilson decided it was his privilege not to tell them.

Unlike the New Zealand Supreme Court, import Chief Judge Gleeson did not limit the evidence.  He wanted to hear it all.  Ms Grey did not hesitate.  The no-nonsense Gleeson was shocked to learn how the Supreme Court had first gotten it so terribly wrong (when they ruled Wilson J had no apparent bias in July 2009) and that Judge Peter Blanchard had actually dismissed extremely damning evidence of Wilson’s financial indebtedness to counsel in that appeal.  After detailing Wilson J’s conduct in the Saxmere appeal, Grey described how she had been fired from her job at the Department of Conservation on the order of Solicitor General David Collins after she first blew the whistle.  She next told of how Wilson had written the Supreme Court opinion in the TVNZ v Simunovich case last August – after working as legal advisor for the NZ Ministry of Fisheries years earlier when the scandal encompassed by the claims had arisen.  She referred to legislation and rules common to all law-respecting societies which precluded Judges from presiding over matters where they have an existing opinion, personal involvement or personal knowledge of disputed facts.  She left Judge Gleeson, and even the Commissioner, stunned by her potent display of relevant facts and law.  She left no doubt that Saxmere was not an isolated case – that the problem was likely systemic and severe.

Media were barred from the meeting, but it was digitally-recorded by the Commisioner and transcripts are to be supplied to the participants later.  Gleeson was reported to be pleasant and engaging – contrary to the steely persona portrayed in the media.  Both Gleeson and the Commissioner were free with questions which were unabashedly on point, seemingly unafraid of asking the nettlesome questions to which the answers almost certainly offended their innate sensibilities.  As the press had been barred, Ms Grey asked for guidance concerning press enquiries, at the same time she expressed her considered view that the evidence of Wilson’s indiscretions would have been covered up if not for the press coverage.  Commissioner Gascoigne readily agreed that the media exposure played a crucial role.   It was, after all, the first of over 500 complaints the Judicial Conduct Commissioner has received in the 4 ½ years since the oversight body was created (Note: active Kensington Swan law partner Ian Haynes was Commissioner for all but the last six months).

Near the end, the Commissioner stated that he had three options: to do nothing, to refer the matter to Chief Justice Elias for possible disciplinary action, or to appoint a panel with the power of removing Wilson if their inquiry confirms the prima facie case against him strong enough.  Counsel Grey vehemently objected to Chief Justice Elias being handed the matter, informing the Australian Gleeson that Wilson and Elias own racehorses together and are close mates.  She commended the Commissioner’s wisdom in bringing Judge Gleeson in for the preliminary interviews and suggested any panel investigating Wilson would equally benefit from picking appointees from outside New Zealand given the small fishbowl in which the New Zealand judges all swim.

Next step?  Gleeson and the Commissioner are to meet with other parties involved in the Saxmere case over the next seven days.  This includes Francis Cooke QC, Alan Galbraith QC and, no doubt, Judge Wilson QC.  At this point, it seems these interviews are merely a matter of crossing the “t”s and dotting the “i”s.  If the expected full and meaningful panel inquiry does not quickly result, we might as well write-off the new $80 million Supreme Court building in respect to any justice we hope to get out of it.  BACK TO FRONT PAGE